Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Montfort and the Tradition of the Hymn in the Life of the Church.
II. Hymns in the Life and Writings of Montfort:
     1. Hymns in the life of Montfort;
     2.Hymns in the writings of Montfort
III. Hymns of Montfort
     1. The manuscripts
        a. Notebook #1
        b. Notebook #2
        c. Notebook #3
        d. Notebook #4
     2. Dates of composition
     3. Categories of hymns
        a. Inspired hymns
        b. Didactic hymns
     4. Audience
     5. Melodies
     6. Inspiration
     7. Structure
     8. Theological and spiritual content
IV. Literary Analysis of the Hymns of Montfort
V. Montfort’s Hymnals after His Death

A perusal of the articles in this Handbook quickly reveals that Saint Louis de Montfort’s hymns are essential for a full, authentic knowledge of both the man and his spirituality. This is true regardless of one’s verdict on the poetic quality of his songs. This article will, therefore, examine the nature and general content of these songs, which comprise such a large share of Father de Montfort’s writings.

The word "hymn" originally designated a chant of thanksgiving.1 The Bible has preserved for us quite a number of these joyful songs of thanks, and they have become an integral part of Christian prayer. In the liturgy of the Hours, Christians sing the hymns of Moses and of David, of Anna, of Samuel, of Tobit and of Judith. The books of Wisdom and the writings of the prophets also contain hymns of praise. The best known canticles of the NT are the Benedictus of Zachary, the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, and the Magnificat of Mary.

Hymn singing is an almost universal custom. People sing in their religious or secular meetings, whether the occasion be joy or sadness. In all countries and in every age, we find repertories of religious chants, coming from the ordinary people, written for ordinary people, speaking their language, and expressing their soul, their emotions, their beliefs. Some of these chants have survived the centuries.

I. Montfort and the Tradition of the Hymn in the Life of the Church

The hymns of Montfort elevate his spirituality. In the hymns, his life becomes a profoundly intimate and beautiful conversation with the Incarnate Word, who is the Sacrament of love. Hymns reflect the traditional symbolic language of ritual, especially the ritual of the Paschal Mystery—the Mass. In a world turned away from Jesus’ humble presence in the flesh and from his Spirit of love, Who dwells within, Montfort’s hymns awaken singer and reader alike to faith, to life’s transcendent beginnings, endings, and processes. He sings: "Your folly is wisdom / Abide with me. / Your dearth is abundance, / Abide with me. / With you, O what treasures / in our souls and bodies" (H 103:13). Montfort’s hymns are sometimes sublime in their mystic grasp of the majesty and wonder of God. Sometimes they are didactic and practical in their earthly grasp of the pastoral care for which the poor and dispossessed cried out. The hymns reveal the Father from Montfort to be a universal man, a suffering servant-disciple of the Incarnate Word, a saint for all times, especially for the end times. He is universal because his spirituality was a coincidence of opposites. He was a universal person because he embraced the paradox of the Cross. By choosing to live the unity of the Cross, he experienced in the Spirit the contemplative and active polarities of life as complementary, interdependent, and mutual. He humbled himself in order to become a slave to ultimate Freedom—to God Alone. The Louis Marie of the hymns was a mystic apostle—a hound of heaven, a pilgrim troubadour. His head was in heaven, and his feet on the ground. How did he arrive at such simplicity and purity? How is it that his life seemed a distilled essence of the Gospel? In the words of the ancient hymn: "Where there is charity, there is love. Where there is love, there is God." Montfort practiced charity because he followed Jesus. And following Jesus nearly, dearly, and clearly, he discovered Jesus’ mother to be his own. She is the heart of a Christian open to the heart of her Son. She is the perfect human person. Just as Jesus came to life through his mother, so, too, did Montfort. His path to perfection was wisdom’s path of becoming incarnate through Mary. "O Jesus, alive in Mary, / Come dwell in us and reign, / Pour out your life in us, / No more to live but for you" (H 111:1). Mary is mother of Jesus and thus the Mother of all. She rebirths those who turn to her with supernatural life and molds them in divine grace to conform to her son. She empties us of unfreedom and shapes us in the liberty of her son’s will. "Shape there your noble virtues, / Your Spirit and his holiness, / Your maxims without flaw, / The passion of your charity" (H 111:2). Montfort shows that the foundation of the spiritual ascent to God is the practice of moral virtue. Virtues are lived, they become incarnate through the Blessed Virgin Mother, in the Spirit of love. She is perfect human selflessness, a Lady clothed in silent mystery, in faith, in the substance of what is unknown. But she gives us eyes for the invisible, for things unseen but hoped for—for faith. Her passion and understanding were pure because she humbly obeyed the perfect laws of her son. She said the "yes" heard round the universe and across the centuries. Montfort gives witness to her "yes." He leads us in singing to her son: "Make us sharers in your mysteries, / That we might imitate you here below; / Send us the keenness of your light, / To guide our every step" (H 111:3). With Louis Marie we are invited to enter the Temple of God, to stand before the Lamb of God on the heavenly altar, and to join in the chorus of heaven as the angels and saints sing the divine acclamation: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might." Mary is the Temple of the Blessed Trinity. In Montfort’s hymns, one is led to sing with her the great doxology: "To the glory of the Father, / In the power of your Name, / Reign in us, through your Mother / Over nature and demon! Amen" (H 111:4).

Montfort was a servant of the Lord whose mission was to renew the faith of the Church through parish missions. He sought to overcome unbelief by teaching people how to live contemplatively—how to be open to God Alone in every moment. St. Gregory the Great, the father of the Church’s tradition of hymnody, saw hymns at the root of pastoral care—the ministry of helping people turn away from sin and back to God. "Now, that man is blind who is ignorant of the light of heavenly contemplation; who, oppressed by the darkness of the present life, does not behold the light to come as he does not love it, and, therefore, does not know whither to direct the steps of his conduct. Hence the Prophetess Anna said: ‘He will keep the feet of His Saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness.’"2 Montfort is depicted most often as a pilgrim troubadour carrying Cross, Bible, and Madonna to the people. He is seen "walking the walk" of the Christian soul’s journey into God. He is seen singing with St. Paul: "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight steps with your feet, that no one halting may go out of the way, but rather be healed" (Gal 6:2). He is a troubadour because the God he sang to was the God who is Love. He dedicated his work, signing and sealing what he had accomplished to "God Alone." He replaced the i of the "Dieu Seul" (God Alone) with a tiny sketch of a heart. The "i" became love in God. Louis Marie reminds one of a troubadour or trouvère of the Middle Ages. Montfort was a vagabond singer, a composer of songs filled with heroism and love. He called people to a life of Christian chivalry. He called them to become Christian knights, to practice a chivalrous love in the court of Christ the King. The Lady of the court was Mary—the Queen Mother of All Hearts. He called them to take up arms, to become a knight of Christ like Michael the Archangel. He asked them to be ready to do battle with the forces of evil. A knight who took the sword took the Cross. Montfort’s hymns called the people to spiritual chivalry, to become noble, courageous, and courteous and to set out on an adventurous journey in search of the Holy Grail—in search of Incarnate Wisdom. Montfort called his knights to do what knights have always done—to defend spiritual pilgrims. "One road to heaven runs: / The highway of the Cross. / It was the royal Son’s, / His road to life from loss. / And every stone of it / That guides the pilgrim’s feet / Is chiselled fair to fit / In Zion’s holy street" (H 19:4). The hymns tell Christians that to set out on the mystic quest, they must first be consecrated to a moral life of fairness, valor, and protection of the poor—all of this through disciplined devotion to the Lady. "A brave knight am I / I serve the King of Heaven, / whose throne is an invincible one / adorned with the Cross and the lily . . . thus I must live nothing contrary to truth, / nothing contrary to humility, / nothing contrary to charity / nothing contrary to purity" (H 95:1, 6). Montfort continues a tradition of hymns to the one, true God, celebrated by another great singer and composer of hymns, St. Ambrose: "O Trinity of blessed light, / O unity of princely might, / The fiery sun now goes his way; / Shed Thou within our hearts Thy ray."3

Richard J. Payne

II. Hymns in the Life and Writings of Montfort

1. Hymns in the life of Montfort

In the West, since the birth of the modern languages, there appeared simple compositions, called ballads. In a religious period like the Middle Ages, these texts were called "songs of piety." Adapted slowly, both in structure and in language, to the ordinary folk, these "hymns" were sung to simple and popular airs.

Shortly before Louis Marie was born (1673), numerous authors of hymns were quite well known. Great writers like Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, and Fénelon knew that even haphazard hymns from their pens would be well received. Fradet, in his excellent work on the hymns of Father de Montfort, lists many of the authors of popular hymns of seventeenth-century France. The majority of them were members of religious orders involved in evangelization, especially through parish missions and retreats.4

Louis Marie, who lived his childhood and youth in the shadow of churches, surely knew a number of these hymns and was certainly influenced by them. It is not astonishing, therefore, that Montfort saw quite early the part hymns could play in his apostolate. During his seminary days at Paris, he composed many hymns, as his friend and fellow student, J.B. Blain, attests.5 All this, however, was preparation for his ministry as an itinerant preacher. The numerous hymns in circulation did not completely satisfy him, so he became a prolific writer of "religious songs."

2. Hymns in the writings of Montfort

OC, which unlike GA contains all the hymns of Saint Louis Marie, dedicates 812 pages to the hymns, compared to 846 for all his other works combined. The precise number of hymns is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to decipher. OC has published 164, and all of these are authentic. But there are several repetitions, and at times it is hard to determine whether or not a few of the hymns originally formed one piece. Keeping in mind these caveats, we can say that Montfort composed around 23,000 verses, which make up these 164 hymns.

One characteristic that is self-evident is the length of Montfort’s hymns. Montfort seems rarely to be at a loss for ideas, and words to express them. More than half of these hymns contain 100 or more verses, and some even go beyond 400 verses. Hymn 127, a stage production, stretches out to 630 verses. Among the shortest, only 23 have less than 50 verses; these ordinarily are prayers and adaptations on prayers.

III. Hymns of Montfort

1. The manuscripts

The hymns, or canticles, are a beautiful inheritance that Father de Mont-fort left to his small community of missionaries. The montfort archives in Rome possess four manuscripts that contain the original texts written by Saint Louis Marie or copied by his close collaborators. Each manuscript was given a label during the beatification process. For practical reasons of identification, they were labeled Notebook #2, Notebook "Copy," Notebook #8, and Notebook #10. In this article, they are called Notebook #1, #2, #3, and #4. These manuscripts are in the form of long pads, 32 to 34 cm. long by 11 cm. wide (121/2" to 131/3" long by 41/3" wide), except the third, which is more squat, 23 cm. by 9 cm. (9" by 31/2").

a. Notebook #1. This manuscript contains thirty-five hymns, all in Father de Montfort’s handwriting, "writing that is delicate, tight, attractive in appearance, regular, and well formed," according to the description of Father Fradet.6 In the margin, a resume gives the main idea of each couplet. At the beginning of each hymn, the author indicates one or several well-known tunes to which they could be sung.

Pages are missing from this first hymnal. But, this should cause no surprise, since Montfort wrote on pieces of paper that he tied by a thread to a makeshift cover.

This Notebook #1 is extremely valuable, first of all because it is written entirely in Montfort’s handwriting, and second, serious studies have dem-onstrated that every piece is original.

b. Notebook #2. The lost sheets of the first Notebook have fortunately been preserved in the second. This one is marked "copy." It is, in fact, a faithful and complete copy of the preceding notebook plus the pages missing from Notebook #1. A faithful copy even to the least details: marginal notes, the embellishments that separate the verses, the capitalized words, etc.

This Notebook is written almost entirely in identical script, which is not that of Father de Montfort. Two other less skillful handwritings complete the transcription. It is evident that Montfort himself went over this Notebook and corrected when necessary. This copy contains an additional twenty authentic hymns.

c. Notebook #3. This manuscript is quite different from the others. It is in a more squat format still and contains a considerable number of pages (568), of which certain ones remained blank. These Notebooks were not considered precious relics but, rather, work instruments that were used daily. This third Notebook, besides being a hymnal carried from mission to mission, served as an all purpose memo pad for the mission band. The name of Brother Mathurin —the first Brother companion of Father de Montfort—appears inside the cover and twice at the end. We presume that this Notebook was used by the Brother, who accompanied the missionaries and collaborated in their apostolic work, especially in the singing of the hymns.7

We find four different handwritings in this third Notebook, including the very recognizable writing of Father de Montfort. None of the hymns contained in this manuscript is found in any other author; they are, therefore, the missionary’s own work. These hymns, numbering ninety-four, are presented as "new."

d. Notebook #4. This hymnal, containing twenty of Montfort’s songs, has come down to us with numerous blank pages. The handwriting of Saint Louis Marie is evident,. as well as the script of some of those who wrote in the other notebooks.

Fradet explains why editors are not in agreement on the exact number of hymns written by Montfort: "We have not taken into account the doubling done by editors who have split up the hymns they found to be too long at times."8 At our current stage of research and study, we can assert that all the hymns contained in the four manuscript Notebooks are original and authentic. After serious study, Fradet concludes: "The manuscripts do not contain a single hymn that we can find in any previous collection."9

2. Dates of composition

H. Frehen, utilizing the remarkable work of M. Barré,10 has attempted to date precisely the composition of certain montfort hymns.11 From a detailed study of the manuscripts, involving close examination of the kind of paper used and of the handwritings, and comparison with the other works of the missionary, he concludes that hymns of the fourth notebook (H 137-163 in OC) date from the last years of the life of Father de Montfort. Unfortunately, he was unable to apply the same studies to the other manuscripts, and it is, then, impossible at this time to date each hymn. Suffice it to say that they were all composed sometime during his seminary days at Saint-Sulpice (Montfort was ordained in 1700) right up to his death in 1716.

3. Categories of hymns

Thanks also to Bishop Frehen, we can conclude that there are two major categories of montfort hymns: "inspired" and "didactic."

a. Inspired hymns. The inspired canticles flow as from a spring, spontaneously, on the occasion of a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, or on the occasion of a joyful celebration, or simply to express the happiness of living in the solitude of the cave at Mervent.

Hymns that are found in this category are, for example, H 145 at Notre Dame de Toute Patience, H 151 at Notre Dame des Dons (composed on the occasion of the entrance of Marie-Anne Régnier into the Daughters of Wisdom), H 155 at Notre Dame des Ombres, H 159 at Notre Dame de Toute Consolation. H 143 recalls the conversion of Bénigne Pagé and her entrance into the Poor Clares. On occasions like these, the verses come to Montfort as easily as Hail Marys, flowing concurrently from his pen, his feelings of thanks, and his personal devotion.

b. Didactic Hymns. These hymns took a little more effort and time, which the saint had to find here and there in the midst of his studies and preaching assignments. That explains why hymns which were put in his collection as different hymns were, in reality, one and the same. Thus, Hymns 46, 100, and 101 have the same structure and are written in the same number of meters, the same persons are in dialogue, and the hymns may be sung to the same air as indicated on top of H 46. Hymns 19 and 102 on the triumph of the Cross are also one hymn. Montfort reworked these canticles, and the copiers inserted them into the Notebooks without necessarily checking out the preceding pages.

4. Audience

Montfort is, before anything else, a missionary. His hymns, sermons, and all his writings were addressed to the people whom he was evangelizing: for the most part, the country folk of northwestern France. Montfort went from one parish to another with his ever-growing collection of hymns to be sung during the parish mission. These hymns, especially the first ones presented in numerical order in OC, are truly a rhymed preaching intended to prolong and help retain the proclaimed Word. Montfort’s determination to evangelize is the first motive for his hymn writing. But he also composed hymns to express feelings and devotions close to his heart, to honor someone, to underline a special event, and at times simply for the joy of writing a poem in honor of the Lord.

His numerous hymns in honor of Mary, the hymns expressing his joy at the entrance of Marie-Anne Régnier and of Bénigne Pagé into the cloister, the noels—all were written not only to edify but to express his own overflowing happiness.

His canticle to the Daughters of Wisdom (H 149) was inspired by the Rule of the Community that he was in the process of writing. H 157 on solitude betrays his happiness in the cave of Mervent and his own appreciation for the beauties of nature.

When he composed his hymn on the poor in spirit, inspired by the Beatitudes (H 144), he probably had in mind his small Company of Mary, which seemed to be taking shape among his several companions. In gratitude for permission to enter their Third Order, he sent the Dominicans at La Rochelle a hymn in honor of the canonization of the Dominican pope, Pius V (H 147). H 146 was a joyful wedding gift to friends.

Father de Montfort’s hymns dem-onstrate a profound respect for the people for whom they were composed. The country folk were simple, often with little if any schooling. Yet the saint believed that beauty was the yearning of all, and he wrote elegant canticles for them. There is nothing banal in his collections of verse. His poetry is certainly not perfect, for he was far more preoccupied with content than with style. Nonetheless, there are some canticles that can only be classed as gems, and ultimately they were destined for his simple people.

5. Melodies

Some find it surprising that Saint Louis Marie used popular secular tunes for his sacred hymns and even for the most solemn of them. But even the melodies were for him a tool of evangelization. If he found a good one that caught the people’s fancy, he would not hesitate to use it for one or more of his hymns. In examining all the melodies suggested, it appears that Montfort must have known the entire repertory of his time! The author did not always suggest a tune at the beginning of his hymns, but generally he did so. On the other hand, certain pieces that were quite lengthy, and made up of several choirs of people, had several tunes. H 127 is the best example of this: no less than eighteen different melodies are indicated. Fradet has discovered some of the original melodies to which the hymns were sung.12

Besides popular tunes, Montfort also made use of melodies of Christmas carols, and three times he suggests airs from drinking songs (cf. H 41, 151, 161).

6. Inspiration

Montfort found his inspiration everywhere, like the landscape painter for whom everything is the subject matter for his canvas.

The apparitions of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (who died in 1690) are commemorated in Hymns 40-44, which may be considered one lengthy hymn of 165 quatrains. Other hymns are concerned with the principal preoccupations and writings of Father de Montfort. Thus, his hymns on the Eternal Wisdom are very close to his other texts on the same subject; they are among his most beautiful canticles (H 78, 103, 124-126); and bear a strange resemblance to Russian mystics who have written on the same subject.

There are thirty-seven hymns to Mary. They clarify many of the teachings expressed in TD and SM. The series of hymns for the octave of Christmas (H 57-66) not only are joyful but also preach a solid Christology.

Other subjects of the hymns include the themes proposed by Saint Louis de Montfort for the preparation for the Act of Consecration to Jesus through Mary: the Spiritual Exercises of montfort spirituality. Ridding oneself of the spirit of the world is the theme of Hymns 29-39, 106, and 107. He proposes as guides to know oneself the long hymns on the virtues and their practice in Hymns 4-28. The hymns to Mary and to Jesus complete this preparation for the Consecration.

Although many hymns contain references to the Holy Spirit, it is surprising that there is only one (H 141) that is specifically dedicated to the third Person of the Trinity.

7. Structure

The first series of hymns found in OC are truly sermons in verse, methodically composed. They contain an introduction and the division of the topic into sections or "points," followed by a conclusion and often by a final prayer. They are didactic verses, and they are not the most poetical. In a certain way, these hymns have an advantage over preaching. The hearer only has to listen and become a participant if the hymn interests him and the melody is good, by humming them. Montfort, the eloquent preacher, knew how to strike the imagination; the hymn, Montfort was convinced, is one of the most efficacious means to accomplish this.

Montfort also possesses a theatrical sense. His dialogue hymns are simple but forceful dramatizations (H 98 between the two sisters of the Third Order; H 99 between the two shepherdesses). At times, his songs demand the participation of several persons. In H 97, concerning the sinner converted during a parish mission, the dramatis personae include God the Father, the friend, the sinner, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the angels, and finally a voice coming from the heavens designated "The Echo." Three hymns, which really only make one (H 46, 100, 101), are a long conversation among the friend of God, an afflicted person, and Satan. H 119, on the despair of the sinner faced with death, and H 123, which presents the meeting of the faithful soul with Our Lord, are along the same lines. H 106 is even more detailed, for the actors include Jesus, an angel, the Christian, and two choirs: the followers of Jesus and the followers of the world. H 127 is nothing less than a short medieval mystery play, entitled "The Abandoned Soul Delivered from Purgatory by the Prayers of the Poor and of Children." Montfort includes a sketch of the stage settings, lists the dramatis personae (twenty) and the various choruses: souls in purgatory, the living, the poor, children. Saint Louis Marie not only composed all the parts to be sung but included in the margin all the stage directions. His artistic talent is clearly revealed not only in this production but in so many of his songs.

8. Theological and spiritual content

The Father from Montfort seems perfectly at ease in the composition of his hymns. Not all his verses are good poetry, but many are sublime, and all are about the glory of God: "Here are my verses and my songs / If they be not beautiful, they are good / If they do not flatter the ears / They do rhyme with wondrous marvels" (H 2:39).

The content of Montfort’s poetry is more vast and more varied than his sermons and his other writings. The first section of the hymns in OC includes canticles comprising faith, hope, love, humility, meekness, obedience, fasting, almsgiving, poverty, zeal, silence, presence of God, modesty, gratitude, thanksgiving, abandonment to Providence, and contempt of the world (H 4-39).

There are several hymns on God (H 50-52, 114, 135, 153) and others on Jesus Christ and his great love for humanity (H 47-49, 54-56), the Cross and the Passion (H 61-73, 102, 123, 137, 138), the Eternal Wisdom (H 103, 124-126), and the Eucharist (H 112, 128-134, 136, 158); a beautiful series of noels (H 57-66); and hymns on the last things: heaven (H 116, 117, 152), hell (H 118, 120), and purgatory (H 119, 127). Hymn 109—nothing less than a catechism—is made up of 330 verses covering the fundamentals of the faith. There are hymns that defy classification. Two (H 22, 91) appear to be primarily autobiographical, singing the apostolate of a "zealous missionary." H 144 seems to have been composed for his Company of Mary, and H 149 is clearly for the Daughters of Wisdom. H 95 is to the good solider, H 96 to the good prisoner, and H 92 for members of Third Orders; H 46, 100, and 101 were written to console the afflicted.

Two hymns are invitations to the parish mission. Hymn 115 begins with the news that the parish mission is about to begin and suggests the program for the parish renewal. This is very much like Hymn 163, addressed to the inhabitants of Saint Pompain and inviting them to come to the mission. In reading these hymns, it is possible to picture the opening of a parish mission in Montfort’s time. There is the impressive arrival of the preachers, sometimes twenty of them; they invade the parish accompanied by their helpers carrying objects, pictures, and banners to illustrate and dramatize the preaching. Brother Mathurin, Montfort’s ever-faithful companion in his missionary work, used to go up and down the streets singing, "Attention! Attention! the mission is open."(H 115:1) "The Holy Journey," Hymn 162, stretches out the program of the retreat into a joyful program for life. There is, finally, H 152, entitled "The Road to Paradise." Montfort sang one of its verses on his deathbed: "Let’s go my dear friends / Let’s go to Paradise." These were among his last words. They express the dominant thought of his entire life: to go to paradise leading a vast, jubilant—and singing —crowd with him.

O. Demers

IV. Literary Analysis of the Hymns of Montfort

Saint Louis de Montfort’s hymns were—for the most part—meant to be sung in village churches, in the homes of the poor, and, therefore, by simple people. When we hear the term "mystical poet" we do not, therefore, think immediately of an early eighteenth-century preacher of parish missions in the countryside of northwestern France. Rather, our minds turn to figures like St. Francis of Assisi, Jacopone da Todi, and especially the great John of the Cross.

Yet this troubadour from Montfort is one of the mystical poets of the Church. From his youngest years, he surely got to know the songs of his village and of the ghettoes in the cities of Rennes and Paris. His artistic nature made him sensitive to the singing of workers in the fields, of gatherings in the village squares, to the wails at wakes, and to the singing in the celebrations at baptisms and weddings. For this reason, Louis Marie wrote his innumerable verses so that they might be sung by the ordinary people, not in a theater but in a country church or on the roadways. His poetry is the song of the masses.

Whereas the great writer of canticles, John of the Cross, succeeded in his mystical poetry to meld together biblical theology, classical humanism, and ancient popular chant, Montfort wrote simple songbooks for the people. Saint Louis Marie was well aware that his poetry would not be read in the Paris salons. He intended to produce songs that together would be a school of catechesis, of moral exhortation, and of prayer even in its highest states, and this for the country folk. These hymns are a monument also to the great saint who wrote them; they testify to his enthusiastic faith, his mystical, joyful prayer, his incredible love for the "ordinary" people, most especially for the poor.

His ars poètica is found in his first two canticles: "The Utility of Hymns" and "To the Poets of These Times." In the first, the poet explains with biblical overtones the dignity and the high value of sacred song, which gives glory to God. The God of joy desires these joyful adorers; song is a sign of joy. Sacred song, according to this itinerant preacher-poet, lights the fires of love, by which we can respond to the new song God sings for us in Christ Jesus. The saints of the early Church sang, and St. Paul teaches, under divine inspiration: "Sing and celebrate the Lord with all your heart" (Eph 5:19). H 2 expresses the purpose of his chants: "This is not to charm you, / You who think only of making rhymes. / Great poets, troublesome people, / I leave your ways to others." And then there follows a merciless attack against poets who do not sing of God and do not celebrate the name of Jesus. For the saint, these are all pagans; they search applause and glory; they mimic Virgil and Horace; they only are interested in the rhyme and rhythm of the day and are inflated by a base impudence; they sing of Bacchus and Venus, of impurity and idolatry. They think they are composing great verses, but since ordinary folk cannot understand them and—worse still—since they do not draw people to Jesus, they are quite useless. And the missionary does not spare unfaithful Christians who prefer these poisonous works to the Bible itself.

Louis Marie is careful not to give the names of these poets of his day, not for fear of defaming them but for fear of soiling his clean pages! How the country folk must have smiled at Mont-fort’s biting words against the haughty. But when the missionary flogs the poets, he does not appear to be thinking only of cabaret singers. After all, they have no intention of imitating Virgil and Horace, and they surely are not renowned for "sublime verses."

Saint Louis Marie appears to be aiming at those people who produce poetry more for the sake of a poetic style than for the content. Yet he went even beyond this in his denunciation of the "poets of the day." It should be recalled that Louis Marie’s short life saw some of the great lights of French literature: Molière died the year the missionary was born; the great Corneille died in 1684, Athalie de Racine in 1699. Yet Montfort believed that his battle-cry, "God Alone!" did not permit him to encourage his people to prefer classical works over sacred hymns. And even more: the missionary esteems as a waste of time or, rather, as utterly worthless and possibly dangerous whatever does not speak in some explicit manner of the infinite God of love. He is joyfully and enthusiastically caught up with the power of proclaiming the Gospel, the beauties of nature, binding the wounds of the ill, for they all speak so clearly of God. He himself—as his poetry so well demonstrates—was so captivated by the adorable Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus crucified, that he could say with St. Paul: "I count everything sheer loss because all is far outweighed by the gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I did in fact lose everything. I count it so much dung for the sake of gaining Christ" (Phil 3:8).

It would be erroneous to attempt to judge Montfort’s "missionary" verses according to classical literary tradition and schools of poetry. Nonetheless, it must also be admitted that Montfort, the mystical poet, offers us pages of not only true poetry but verses of an exquisite, expressive power and tenderness reminiscent of Jacopone or of Villon.

Montfort lived and sang on a popular level. He knew, as his poetry attests, the great unity of God’s creation; he believed that to exist, to pray, to evangelize, and to compose poetry are all—for the person living baptismal life—to praise God Alone. Garcia Lorca defined his own poetry as full of life and natural force in this way: "Yo tengo el fuego en mis manos (I hold fire in my hands)." Montfort could repeat the very same formula to describe his own poetry. It is filled with the fire of God.

G. Francini

V. Montfort’s Hymnals after His Death

Montfort’s successors, especially the Company of Mary, which continued his work of preaching parish renewals, made great use of the founder’s hymns. The manuscripts were the work instruments that the missionaries always had at hand. They were instruments of evangelization.

At times the preachers added to their repertoire new hymns taken from here and there (without acknowledging the authors). Adapting to new circumstances, they followed Montfort’s custom and revised some of the words or stanzas of the founder’s hymns. When Adrien Vatel, one of the first members of the Company of Mary, edited the hymns in 1725—less than ten years after Montfort’s death—it is apparent that he did not consider the hymns a family treasure to be kept in the archives. There were six editions of the hymns of Father de Montfort in the eighteenth century and five more in the nineteenth, all of course in French. They borrowed from one another, and they all resembled each other by their lack of rigorous fidelity to the texts. It was only in 1929, with Father Fradet’s monumental work, that there were a serious return to the sources and a meticulous study of Saint Louis de Montfort’s poetry. The same fidelity to authenticity characterizes the hymns that appear in OC, published in 1966; the hymns are integrated with the other writings to form an imposing literary and spiritual monument.

This rapid overview shows that his hymns—at least the more popular ones—always held a place of honor among French-speaking Catholics. With the reform of liturgical music after Vatican II, many of the "old" hymns of all authors have been subjected to strong criticism. New popular songs fill the repertoire of parishes. Nonetheless, the hymns of Montfort are being "discovered" by Catholics of all languages, not primarily to add to existing hymnals but to be prayerfully read because of their solid content. Like his other works, they reveal a man who is unreservedly and publicly on the side of the Gospel and the Church. His hymns never hedge; they are not "piosity." They form an authentically Catholic program of life for which the present generation is desperately searching. For people who are not French speaking, the discovery of the writings of Saint Louis Marie in their own language has so renewed interest in the saint that it is hoped that the canticles of Montfort will soon be published in several modern languages.

O. Demers

(1) For a study of hymns in general, cf. J. Szövérffy, Hymnology, in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: McGraw-Hill 1966, 7:287-295; M. Hueller, M. A. Bischel, and E.J.Selhorst, Hymns and Hymnals, ibid., 295-304. The best inroduction to the Hymns of Saint Louis de Montfort is F. Fradet, Les oeuvres du Bx de Montfort, poète mystique et populaire. Ses Cantiques avec Etude Critique et Notes (The works of Blessed de Montfort, Mystical and Popular Poet: His Hymns with Critical Study and Notes), Beauchesne-Grassin, Librairie Mariale, Paris, Angers, and Pontchâteau 1929 (with bibliography) (2) St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, trans. Henry Davis SJ, Newman Press, Westminister, Md. 1950, 40-41. (3) Translated by John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Church of the Fathers, 4th ed., Burns, Oates, & Co., London 1868 (4) Fradet, Les oeuvres, pp. 1-2 of the chapter Etude Critique (5) Blain, 70 (6) Fradet, Les oeuvres, 9. (7) L. Le Crom, Un apôtre marial: saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (A Marian Apostle: Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort), Librairie mariale, Pontchâteau 1942, 148-149. (8). Fradet, Les Oeuvres, 16. (9) Fradet, Les Oeuvres, 22. (10) M. Barré, Chronologie des cantiques du Pere de Montfort (Chronology of the Hymns of Fr. de Montfort), in DMon 33 (1963), 78-89; 34 (1963), 129-156. (11) Montfort Father H. Frehen, bishop of Iceland († 1986), produced several articles, amounting to 449 pages, printed under the title Etudes sur les cantiques du Père de Montfort (Studys on the Hymns of Fr. de Montfort). The first three titles were published in DMon 45 (1968), 1-16; 46 (1969), 17-40; 47 (1972), 41-58. The rest were published by the author in separate installments. (12) Fradet, Les oeuvres, 93-95.

Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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